Cultivating communities

Cultivating communities is like cultivating the earth. It requires regular attention, watering and protection from harmful elements. All people need love, instruction and protection whether they are eight weeks or eighty years old. People also need people but more importantly, people need God. People and creation are not the only things that need to be cultivated; cultures must also be cultivated. Attention must be shown to the developing morals, values, institutions and structures of every culture if civilization is to prosper. Communities are comprised of peoples from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures. In short, people plus culture equals community. However, not all communities are created equal. Some communities are redeemed and others are not. As a result, human cultures allow for the flowering of human creativity and debauchery. As a result, there are things in culture that need celebration, instruction, protection and condemnation.

As a redeemed community, we, the Church, are created for cultivation in a cultural, spiritual and relational sense. In the cultural sense, we should contribute to the progress of human culture as others do, through work and welfare. In addition, as products of God’s creation, our cultures have been created to be enjoyed. As a result, we should cultivate creation and culture through both our labor and our leisure. There is not one aspect of life in which we are not intended to glorify God. We are called to honor Him in everything (1 Cor 10.31; Col 3.17, 23) and to do so redemptively (2 Cor 5.18-20). Therefore, in cultivating community we should engage labor, leisure and charity redemptively, not uncritically or unlinked to our Christian worldview. With this redemptive approach to living comes the need for Christians to engage in regular worship and fellowship, promoting a shared delight in the Creator and Redeemer himself. To that end, our cultivation of community is also relational. We are relational because God is relational. The Trinity is a being-in-relation whose source of happiness is Self. Created in God’s image, humanity hungers for authentic, soul-stirring community. It is the Trinity that sets the pattern for Christian community, a community that is Christ-centered. In the context of Christ-centered community, Spirit-led disciples minister to one another, extending love and promoting faith. As the overflow of rich and regularly cultivated community, we can extend our love and compassion to those who have not experienced redemption. This can be done locally and globally, which is precisely why we talk of cultivating “communities” (plural). By following the Spirit and depending on Christ as our model and means for discipleship, we can redemptively engage a variety of peoples and cultures in order to win them to the supreme satisfaction of bringing glory to God. As a result, we participate in cultivating, contributing and redeeming the communities of the earth. We believe that planting churches is God’s primary design for cultivating communities in this world because it is the church that bears the message and meaning of true community to the world. By announcing and enacting the gospel, we promote Christ-centered community which will last forever. Therefore, we commit ourselves to this vision for the good of all peoples and the glory of God.

Personal, Family and Church Vision Statement

In order to shape the vision and direction of our family and ministry, I have worked on a personal vision statement over the past couple of years. Although this isn’t the kind of thing that jives with everyone, I have found it to be a very fruitful exercise. As it so happens, this vision statement also captures our dreams for a church plant. Due to its length, I have decided to post the exposition of the statement in stages. Below you will find the first installment. Any feedback is welcomed. Just so you know, it is in its rough form.

“Cultivating communities of Spirit-led disciples who redemptively engage peoples and cultures in Christ for the glory of God.”

Biblical Theology?: Losing Sight of the Exegetical Trees for the Redemptive-Historical Forest

  1. In redemptive-historical exegesis there is a tendency to see a biblical-theological forest behind every exegetical tree. Redemptive-historical interpretation, especially when sensitive to exegetical echoes and backgrounds in a given text, is prone to overinterpretation, hearing echoes where none are sounded. For instance, in his sweeping book on the temple motif (and hardly the mission of the church), Greg Beale detects the influence of temple theology in Colossians 1 and 2 (Beale, Temple, 267-68). However, the primarily metaphor used to described the church and Christ in Colossians is that of the human body (cf. 1.18; 2.9-10, 19; 3.15). Here is a case of seeing the “forest” instead of the “tree,” the biblical-theological temple instead of the exegetical body. In fact, Paul’s concern in the letter is not so much the church’s expanding mission of temple construction and expansion as it is recognition of the thoroughly human and physical nature of the church. The reason for this is that Paul wants to correct the body-belittling acetic practices of the Colossians, which is rooted in their dualistic, deficient view of creation and Christ (2.16-23). Paul selects the body metaphor to drive home the point which is made in the Christ poem, creation is good and so is the body because Christ is the agent of all creation. Therefore, enjoy freedom in what you eat and drink, treat your body with honor, and do not enforce ascetic measures on others. Consider the “body” of Christ and glorify him for his creation, ecclesiastical and literal. Therefore, we must be cautious when we import valid biblical-theological themes invalidly into a text. The influence of a given themes must be weighed carefully against the immediate context of the letter, allowing for the appropriate exegetical constraints.

  1. There is a tendency to mark and meditate on the trees of the redemptive-historical forest instead of considering the exegetical tree in front of you. When detecting echoes and allusions in a given text, authorial intent is often derived by piecemealing an OT background from several disparate books. While this is certainly the case in some instances, there is a tendency to assimilate an OT composite that may not have been intended by the author. This attempt to be exegetically rigorous may in fact, be more reflective of modernist interpretive methods and not authorial intention. Moreover, the attempt to “do bibilical theology” may end up being more theology than biblical as “backgrounds” are given more wieght than the historical “foregrounds” of the given text.

Freakonomics and Faith

What do Freakonomics, Morphic Fields, and the Church have in common? Steven Levitt, author of the best-selling Freakonomics and Rupert Sheldrake, author of the Dogs That Know Thier Owners Are Coming Home and The New Science of Life, are both experts in their fields. Sheldrake and Levitt have centered thier careers on something that seminary students, pastors and theologians do well to heed.

An expert in developmental biology and pioneer of the concept of “morphic fields,” Sheldrake has devoted his scientific research to understanding the quotidian, “the everyday mysteries of life.” Developing scientific theories to explain such matters as why amuptees can feel sensations in their amputated limbs, why birds seem to always find thier way home, and why dogs can anticpate thier owners arrival, Sheldrake has devoted his work to the suff of everyday life. Whether or not we agree with his unorthodox methods and unusual claims, we must admire his attention to the details of life, his preoccupation with the normal.

Stephen Levitt, recent recipeint of the is attempting to explaing the “hidden side of everything” through economics. He wrestles with matters like, ‘What Makes A Perfect Parent’ and ‘Why Drug Dealers Still Live With Thier Moms’? Levitt’s analysis is certinaly thought-provoking and , at times, right on. An outstanding intellectual, Levitt has not settled for the ivory tower. Instead, like Sheldrake, he has devoted his capacities and insights to the stuff of everyday life.

Seminary students, pastors and theologians would do well to imitate the “rogue” attempts to translate academics into “everything”. When was the last time you tried to understand your pet or your parenting from a theological perspective? Beyond what developmental biology and freakonomics can offer, practical theology, integrating life with faith, sparks not only the intellect, but also the soul.